‘We’ve got to discover uncomfortable truths’ – calls to address inequalities in dentistry

Dental experts are calling for urgent action towards improving equality and diversity in dentistry. 

As part of yesterday’s Westminster Health Forum Policy Conference, a discussion took place on the diversity challenge for dentistry and the the impact of COVID-19 on BAME members of the profession.

Headed up by Chet Trivedy, he opened up about his own discriminatory experiences within the workplace.

‘I’ve worked for the NHS for many years and I was asked when I was going home after the Brexit results were announced. I said: ‘Well I’m still on my shift.’ They said: ‘No no no’ and said that after the referendum ‘you should be going back home’.

‘I have colleagues who have had similar experiences around these issues. It’s not very often that you feel uncomfortable around some of the things somebody has said.

‘But now is a time to be open about them and actually try to deal with them in a positive way.’

More discussion on inequalities

He argued that Brexit and COVID-19 have had a huge impact upon diversity and equality within the UK.

‘2020 has been a year for ethnicity to be put in the spotlight,’ he said.

‘A combination of a global pandemic, the withdrawal of the UK from the EU and events in the US have really put spotlight on ethnicity. We are talking about ethnicity and diversity a lot more than we were a couple of years ago.

‘But these issues have been around for generations. Even going back to dental school – there were no platforms and people felt slightly uncomfortable talking about the race issue.’

In June, PHE data showed that COVID-positive BAME individuals are more at risk of adverse outcomes.

This week, government plans reveal a person’s ethnicity is now required on death certificates. The move hopes to shine a light on why minorities are more vulnerable to COVID-19 complications.

‘We’ve got to be bold’

Dr Trivedy argued that it has taken a global pandemic for many dental associations to address questions of equality.

He said: ‘I think dentistry did take a very hard knock in terms of the impact of COVID, especially with job security. All the issues have added an extra layer of challenges for BAME staff in the dental setting. The question is: “What can we do to minimise the impact of COVID.”

‘I would say it’s only since COVID, many more associations are addressing the equality and diversity inclusion strategies to actually maximise the safety and wellbeing of their BAME staff, especially within the NHS.’

He added: ‘We’ve got to be bold about these things – we’ve got to discover some uncomfortable truths.’

He also called for a number of actions, including:

  • Engagement with not just dentists, but other dental professionals such as nurses and hygienists
  • Pushing transcultural oral health, including CPD and webinars on oral health issues that are specific to patients of ethnicity.

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